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Survivor describes ‘relief’ as St John Ambulance’s failure to report child abuse exposed

The shocking report shows the charity failed to properly investigate child protection risks or to bring complaints to the gardaí

Mick Finnegan wants St John Ambulance to publish review into claims of abuse in the organisation

Maeve McTaggartSunday World

A man who was abused by a senior St John Ambulance officer in the 1990s has described his “relief” that the organisation’s failure to protect children has been revealed in a new report.

Mick Finnegan was in his teens when he when he was assaulted by the man, and has spent more than half his life campaigning for an investigation into what happened to him and other boys at the organisation.

The shocking report shows the the first aid charity failed – on multiple occasions – to properly investigate child protection risks or to bring complaints of child abuse to the gardaí.

"Literally in tears right now,” Mr Finnegan tweeted in response to the report this morning. “But the relief knowing that the truth is finally out there is huge.”

Mick reported allegations of sexual abuse to the gardaí and St John Ambulance more than two decades ago. The DPP decided not to prosecute, though Tusla deemed the allegations against the ex volunteer to be “founded” following a 2019 probe.

Mick recently protested outside the organisation’s headquarters as part of his call for the report to be published.

The independent investigation into predatory and abusive behaviour at the charity since the 1970s has exposed how it repeatedly mishandled complaints of abuse and grooming since the 1970s.

Unvetted individuals can potentially still gain access to children due to gaps in the garda vetting system at St John Ambulance, and the charity continues to not have a finalised child protection policy, the report has revealed.

The lengthy 230+ page report, obtained by RTÉ and shared with survivors this morning, was commissioned in March 2021 after several men came forward to disclose that as teens, they were sexually abused by a senior officer at a Dublin division of the organisation during the 1990s.

The review reportedly finds that St John Ambulance failed to investigate suspicions or knowledge of child protection risks – or properly intervene –despite a strong awareness of “serious threats to children.”

It has also been found that the organisation did not refer initial complaints of abuse to the gardaí or other statutory agencies.

Dr Geoffrey Shannon, who carried out the report, said incidents were not reported out of attempts to avoid litigation and to protect the reputation of the organisation.

RTÉ reports that among the now registered charity’s files, Dr Shannon found reference to a member who had allegedly performed oral sex on a child cadet, another where an adult member had allegedly asked two cadets to perform oral sex and incidents where members were found to have sent inappropriate messages to children.

In 2016, an adult who was the subject of a child protection matter had not attended child protection training for 4 years and another member was suspended for having inappropriate contact with a cadet and encouraging the child to keep a secret from their parents.

In most cases, it was not clear in these files what the outcome was for alleged perpetrators.

"We are sincerely sorry for the hurt that was caused to you, your families and your friends, by the failings in our organisation,” the Board of St John Ambulance said in a letter shared with abuse survivors this morning.

The letter, seen by RTÉ, adds: "We fully accept that the organisation's structures facilitated grooming and predatory behaviour in the past. We also acknowledge, and deeply regret, that you, the victim-survivors, continue to suffer ongoing and persistent trauma because of the abuse you have described experiencing."

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